Homage

Gore Vidal was one of three rather important gay male writers who emerged from the wreckage of World War II (the others being Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote), and I have always enjoyed reading his work–even if it’s not page turning material; I like the way he writes and I like the way he tells his stories.

He wrote six or seven major works of fiction based in American history that tell, in their own way, a more clear-eyed vision of what American history was and how the nation developed; called the Narratives of Empire, they certainly weren’t published in order but rather, I gather, in the order that struck his fancy; he was also busy writing other things and feuding with other writers–notably Capote, Norman Mailer, and William F. Buckley–and he obviously had a flair for the outrageous and controversial; The City and the Pillar, a very frank and daring and sympathetic look at the experiences of one young man navigating the world as a gay man, made him so controversial he was unpublishable for a number of years; he spent the time writing mysteries under the name Edgar Box and writing screenplays. Myra Breckinridge, which undoubtedly does not hold up to modern scrutiny and eyes; the book was clearly intended as satire, examining societal gender constructs and views on sexuality as well as the role of women. I read it for the first time maybe ten years ago, and it struck me as quaint; an artifact of a time certainly less enlightened, but trying to head for the light. (It may be worth a reread.) He also wrote Julian the Apostate, which I greatly enjoyed and read one year beside the pool during Saints & Sinners, back when it was in May and we used to always spend the weekend at the Olivier House on Toulouse Street.

But the Narratives of Empire began with, I think, Washington DC, followed by 1876 and later Burr; he also wrote about the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the growth of the American empire in Empire, which I have also read and greatly enjoyed. I’ve not read all the titles yet; but reading Lincoln next after Empire made the most sense to me as some of the real-life characters depicted in that book are also in Lincoln, and it’s been a very long time since I read anything about Lincoln.

Elihu B. Washburne opened his gold watch. The spidery hands shows five minutes to six.

“Wait here,” he said to the driver, who said, “How do I know you’re coming back, sir?”

At the best of times Congressman Washburne’s temper was a most unstable affair, and his sudden outbursts of rage–he could roar like a preacher anticipating hell–were much admired in his adopted state of Illinois, where constituents proudly claimed that he was the only militant teetotaller who behaved exactly like a normal person at five minutes to six, say, in the early morning of an icy winter day–of the twenty-third of February, 1861, to be exact.

“Why, you black—!” As the cry in Washburne’s throat began to go to its terrible maximum, caution, the politican’s ever-present angel, cut short the statesman’s breath. A puff of unresonated cold steam filled the space between the congressman and the Negro driver on his high seat.

Heart beating rapidly with unslaked fury, Washburne gave the driver some coins. “You are to stay here until I return, you hear me?”

Growing up with Southern parents and the so-called “Southern heritage”, Lincoln’s place in history was, to say the least, still resented. The lionization of Lincoln after his death was, in some part, made possible by his murder; there’s not telling what the judgment of history would be on him had he lived to serve out his second term. Would we revile Lincoln for the reconstruction policies he would have followed? How different would the face of our present day nation be had he lived? An enormous mythology has sprung up around Lincoln since his death; “Honest Abe the rail-splitter” is a tale told to school children to this day, or how a young girl told him to grow a beard, and so on and so forth. The Civil War has been analyzed and written about endlessly; no one person could ever hope to read and digest all the documentation that exists of the conflict, let alone all the books published centering the war. I was always interested in Lincoln–even as a child I couldn’t wrap my mind around the mentality that people claiming to be “patriotic Americans” reviled Lincoln and glorified the Confederacy; I still am unable to consider such without triggering a massive amount of cognitive dissonance in my brain–and read lots of children’s books about him, but by the time I was an adult I was no longer interested in reading further biographies of the man. I am relatively uninterested in the possibility that he may have had relationships with men; without definitive proof that will always be a theory, and let’s face it, there is more evidence (although nothing conclusive) about his predecessor James Buchanan’s sexuality than there ever will be about Lincoln’s–hence my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” I wrote for The Faking of the President.

Lincoln’s task was to preserve the Union in the face of its collapse, and that is what he strove to do. Was secession constitutional? Lincoln didn’t think so; the Constitution did not provide for the dissolution of the Union but at the same time it stated that any rights or restrictions not granted to the federal government in the document thereby fell to the individual states. So, does that mean the states held the right to leave the union? Andrew Jackson certainly didn’t think so, since he threatened to send federal troops into South Carolina during the nullification crisis. Part of the reason I actually wanted to read this book at this time was because of the stark reminder that Lincoln’s presidency, and the Civil War, serve as proof that mollifying white supremacy and continually compromising with an angry volatile minority, never ends well. (We are seeing it again now with the old Confederate states allied with their rural midwestern states…and of course as always, the ones threatening insurrection or secession claim to be “true patriots.”

Whatever, Mary.

Lincoln serves to humanize the man, and is also equally frank about Lincoln’s own white supremacist beliefs. Is Vidal’s assertion that Lincoln wanted to take the freed slaves and colonize them into Central America or somewhere back in Africa while reimbursing the slave owners for the loss of “property” accurate? It’s not the first time I’ve heard this (never heard it in school, though) and it seems likely to me. I also liked how Vidal got the panic of what it was like to live in Washington during there war so spot on; we never think about that, or how Maryland was a slave state surrounding the district, or that slavery existed and was legal in the district itself; slaves built the White House and the Capital. We never see into Lincoln’s head or from his point of view in this book–a masterful trick of Vidal’s, who thus leaves Lincoln a mystery to the reader.

It’s a compelling narrative, and it also shows us the point of view throughout of one of the conspirators who were hanged for plotting to kill him–David Suratt–and this jumping around from points of view–either of those who admired Lincoln, hated him, or thought him incompetent–gives a more three-dimensional view of the man we have deified for the last 156 years. He was definitely smart, a master politician, and, as Vidal says in the closing paragraphs of the book–if Washington was the father of our country, Lincoln was the father of our modern country.

Highly recommended.

1963

And now it’s Saturday. It’s still cold in New Orleans and we still don’t have any heat but it’s not as bad as Texas by any means, and we never lost either power or water pressure. So far we haven’t had a rolling blackout, either–although they were threatened. I spent most of yesterday unpacking and repacking condom packs, while watching history videos on Youtube, done by a local New Orleanian–someone I do not know–correcting revisionist history; it began with his lengthy video on the Confederate propaganda movie Gods and Generals–which I have never seen; I tend to avoid Civil War films because they are all-too frequently Lost Cause narratives at best or defenses of white supremacy at worst–even the ones that don’t center Confederate stories. I have no desire to see either. I was raised on the Lost Cause false-narrative, and I am still kind of bitter about being taught false narratives as truth as a child. I also resent having had to spend so much of my adult life correcting everything I learned that was wrong and/or incorrect; relearning American history without the rose-colored glasses of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny firmly placed on my nose and eyes.

Writing Bury Me in Shadows, methinks, is in some ways for me kind of a reckoning with that “heritage.”

The cold is going to continue through this weekend, but tomorrow is supposed to be relatively normal late winter weather for New Orleans. It will be nice to get back to normal. It’s currently forty degrees and sunny outside, and I’ll take it, thank you very much.

Today I am going to spend most of the day rereading and revising my manuscript. I want to be able to get through the entire thing in one sitting–this way I can catch most of the repetition, and I am going to also be starting to sprinkle the new stuff through the manuscript that needs to be added. I am hoping that on Sunday I can go to the gym and start inputting the changes; Monday I will assess as to whether I believe I can finish before the deadline or not. (I am a firm believer in not waiting until the last minute to let my publisher know the manuscript will be late.) I mean, I do have another full weekend to get it all done, but it’s not going to be super easy. I have to write an entire season of a podcast–or at least, significant excerpts from said podcast–and there’s at least one more chapter that needs to be written. (Depends on the inputted changes I am going to be making as I go; the goal is to make writing that last chapter really easy by making it a “now that everything is over and has been resolved” kind of chapter.)

It’s going to be lovely to be done with the book, to be honest. I started writing this version in the summer of 2015; I wrote the entire first draft in slightly less than one month–without the last chapter; I never did write the last chapter because I knew I was going to have to make changes to the story and why write something I might have to throw completely out? I have always tried to be efficient with my writing–not going off on tangents, not writing things that will have to be cut out later (it’s so painful cutting out entire scenes and chapters)–and knowing that I couldn’t really write the final chapter until I was absolutely certain about the story itself. I know the story now–this is like the eighth draft, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that took this many drafts (novels, at any rate; I have short stories that have been through eight or more drafts, seriously). I am looking forward to moving on from it at long last; I want to start planning the writing of Chlorine next, while also finishing some short stories and putting together some proposals for other ideas I have. If all goes well, I will be able to write a first draft of Chlorine in April, a first draft of the next Scotty in May, and then spend the summer revising and rewriting both. I’d like to spend the fall finishing other odds and ends I have in my files–“Never Kiss a Stranger” has been crying to me from the files to be finished, for one, and there are a couple of other novellas and short stories I want get done. Granted, if any of the proposals sell I will have to change my writing schedule, but if none of them do sell…well, I have plenty on hand for me to write.

I may even start a new series. I’ve been thinking that a gay cozy mystery might be fun to write. I love puzzles and lots of suspects and things; I’d love to do something along the lines of James Anderson’s The Case of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, which is probably my favorite cozy mystery of all time; a big mansion, secret passages, jewel thieves, international espionage–all taking place over a house party weekend at an English country home. I’ve always felt it was a shame that those wonderful old classic home house party/small village mysteries the British wrote that I loved to read really couldn’t be replicated in the US…and then later realized that is because those stories are completely rooted in the British class system and what would be comparable here and then…yeah, you see where this went, don’t you? Although some day I will figure out how to do one of those…

I WILL. And it will be marvelous.

I also need to reread The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy again. It’s really quite marvelous; I do hope it holds up.

I’ve also been sort of paging through/rereading the Three Investigators’ The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, which in some ways was a tribute to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone–which I also did with my own Vieux CarrĂ© Voodoo–while not finishing the Dana Girls’ The Clue in the Cobweb. I also keep meaning to get back into reading short stories, since my mind is in that weird “I need to finish my book” place where I can’t focus on reading anything new (once the book is done, I am going to spend some serious time with Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things, which I had started reading before locking into “finish the book” mode), so it’s either short stories or rereads until I turn this manuscript in. Anyway, that’s one of my favorite Three Investigators books because it, too, involves a treasure hunt with vague clues (or rather, a riddle of sorts) the boys have to figure out in order to find their new young friend August’s inheritance, the Fiery Eye, a cursed jewel stolen from an idol in a fictional southern Asian nation (Constant Reader will note that Vieux CarrĂ© Voodoo also involved the need to solve a riddle to find a cursed jewel stolen from a temple in a fictional southeast Asian country). I also recently–and I don’t remember if I shared this here or not–had the epiphany that the Scotty series, in some ways, is in and of itself a tribute to The Three Investigators…if they were adults and gay and in a “throuple”, as such relationships are called nowadays (I first heard the term in a CDC training). It also occurred to me that many kids’ series involve the main character and two close friends–or if the main characters are a pair (the Hardys and the Danas) they’re inevitably given a close pal who shares their adventures (in fairness, the Dana sisters have several friends who fill that role; some of the books involve several of their friends, but the only one whose name I can recall now is Evelyn Starr–although I believe they also had a friend named Doris Garland, but I am not sure about that name). As I thought about this more, I had to wonder if this was an attempt to steer the books away from homoeroticism or the undercurrent of the main character and his/her best friend being more like a couple then as friends….but I also can’t imagine that being a concern when these books were first conceived? (Although Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler certainly play out the butch/femme lesbian dynamic rather convincingly–which I think why in later books in the series they played down Trixie’s “tomboyishness” and tried to make her more of a girly-girl.) Nancy Drew’s first four books featured her and her dear friend Helen Corning; in book five Helen vanishes (she shows up in a couple of later books) and is replaced by cousins Bess and George (again, the butch/femme dynamic at play, even though they are made cousins to avoid such thinking…but George is so damned butch and Bess so femme people made the connection anyway). The Hardys have Chet Morton, who is relentlessly fat-shamed and mocked throughout the entire series (Frank and Joe sometimes aren’t the wonderful boys they are made out to be). I have certainly made note of the homoerotic undercurrent in the Ken Holt series (with his best pal Sandy) and the Rick Brant series (with his best pal Scotty) before; there is none of this in the Three Investigators series because there are three of them, and they are vaguely around thirteen; it is doubtful any of them have gone through complete puberty yet because they still think of girls as kind of alien creatures, which really plays strangely in the series where the male leads are in their later teens….the chasteness of the Hardys with their token girlfriends–like Nancy, Bess and George with their token boyfriends–never quite rings true to me. They don’t even kiss! That probably has more to do with their target audience (nine to thirteen year olds) than anything else, but even when I was a prepubescent kid it struck me as strange.

I still want to try writing my own middle-grade series for kids; I think I may take a month this summer and try to write one and see what happens. I’ve been planning such a series since I was a kid, after all, and my writing career lately has seemed to be all about writing the things I’ve been leaving on the back burner simmering for years.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. My book is calling to me, and I want to read some short stories with the rest of my morning caffeine. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–and friends in Texas, hope you’re doing okay. I’ve been thinking about all y’all this past week.

Ode to Joy

I went through a Robert Ludlum phase in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; I don’t remember why exactly I began reading him–spy thrillers and international intrigue have never been of particular interest to me–but I know the first Ludlum I read was The Osterman Weekend, which I didn’t really follow or think was all that great, in all honesty; but I picked up a copy of The Gemini Contenders at a used bookstore and then I was hooked. I bought all of his backlist, and began buying his new novels in hardcover when they were released. I stopped reading Ludlum when Ludlum stopped writing his books–I don’t recall which the last of these was; I see that I am actually incorrect; I stopped reading Ludlum after The Road to Omaha–apparently he wrote and published three more, but this was when I was deep into reading only gay and lesbian fictions for the most part. I was always amazed at how intricately his books were plotted, and many of them–mainly The Gemini Contenders–were my favorite kind of thrillers: the treasure hunt. Ludlum was also where I learned that the best villains, second only to Nazis, came from the Vatican (Dan Brown made a shitload of money using that premise). Even as a fairly uneducated reader and writer, Ludlum’s overuse of exclamation points annoyed me–but I loved his intricate plots, his heroes, an he also wrote some really amazing women characters as well. I’ve been meaning to revisit Ludlum over the last few years–mainly because if I ever really do a Colin spin-off (stand alone or series), Ludlum would be a good author to study (along with LeCarre, of course) for plotting and structural purposes.

I’ve also always kind of wanted to do a gay Jason Bourne type story–which could also work for Colin as well.

Hmmm. I mean, maybe on one of his missions he gets amnesia? It’s a thought.

I had a pretty good day yesterday. I managed to get back on schedule with the book yesterday, which is great, and so today I am going to start going through it all, cleaning it up more and writing an outline as I go, and figuring out where to put the new things that need to go in it. I also need to do some writing rather than revise/rewriting; I’ve figured out a great way to bridge back story and build it into the book without having it be an actual part of the story/story, and it’s something that could easily build into another book or perhaps a series. Who knows? I also managed to work through my email inbox–the endlessly refilling inbox; it’s like Sisyphus or trying to clean the Augean stables or killing the hydra, I swear to God, and I have let it slide for far too long. I’m trying to get my life better organized–I don’t know what kind of fog I’ve been in, or for how long I’ve been actually in it, but I do know this: it’s gone on for far longer than I should have allowed it to, that’s one thing I know for certain. I also don’t know how long this “non-fog” situation will last (probably it will come to a screeching halt on Monday when the alarm goes off at six in the morning), but I need to take full advantage of it while I can. I also need to get to the gym today and groceries need to be made. After I finished work I watched a history program about a woman who was a Union spy in Richmond during the Civil War, which also talked about a young slave girl she raised and loaned out to the Davises so she could also spy on them and report back. What an interesting novel that would make–for a Black author to take on. I’d love to see what a writer like say, Kellye Garrett or Rachel Howzell Hall or Colson Whitehead could make of the story…history is chockfull of wonderful stories to be told, and after I finished watching that we watched Framing Britney, which was kind of chilling…I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the documentary made a very compelling case, and the thought that someone of her stature and stardom was essentially blackmailed into giving up control of herself, her career, and her money (they held their kids over her head) and she cannot break free of the conservatorship is truly frightening. I said to Paul at one point, “People always thought she was stupid but she wasn’t–she’s very smart; she just had a thick Southern accent and so, of course, that meant she was an idiot.” It also reminded me of an idea I had a while back of doing a modern-day version of Valley of the Dolls set in Las Vegas; a Britney-type filling in for Neely, more of a tragic role than Susann’s monster-in-training.

I mean, it could work.

Its gray and foggy this morning in New Orleans; with a bit of a chill in the air as well. I am going to drink some more coffee and then kickstart my day by going to make groceries before coming home to go to the gym and then getting cleaned up and probably working on trying to finish responding to my emails and putting away/cleaning up my desk area before rereading the first ten chapters of the manuscript I have revised and doing a hard edit–these revisions were pretty simple, really–and catching the things I know I was noticing when I was revising: duplications, saying the same thing in different chapters (this is my worst habit, repeating myself–which is a direct result of writing books a chapter at a time and then not remembering what was in previous chapters, or if I’ve said something before. It’s also trickier because I’m writing it in the present tense, and there are flashbacks and memories that have to be written in the past tense, which is going to undoubtedly give my editor fits. The present tense for the things happening in the present works much better than the past tense I usually write in; but not having a lot of experience with present tense is making this much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Perhaps I should consult Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style? After all, I do have a copy sitting here on my desk in easy reach; mayhap after the gym and getting cleaned up I shall retire to my easy chair with the manuscript and that copy of Strunk & White.

I also slept really well last night, which was lovely. The bed was most comfortable, and it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite some time, which is, of course, lovely but begs the question, why did I sleep so much better and restfully last night than I have in quite some time? I did have some Sleepytime tea before I went to bed, which could have had something to do with it…I always mean to have a cup before bed but always manage to forget; I will definitely have one again tonight. The problem is that my body will adjust and adapt to almost anything relatively quickly; so it’s not like the tea will work every night…but if last night was indicative, I need to make more of an effort to have a cup more regularly than I have been doing.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader. I certainly intend to do so.

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince

One question that always exasperates authors is the old standard, where do you get your ideas from?

I get why it annoys writers to be asked this; who wants to be psycho-analyzed on a panel or at a reading? It’s a process, of course, and one that cannot be distilled into a quick, witty, quotable sound bite–and the ultimate truth is, it’s almost always different in every case–whether it’s a novel, an essay or a short story; I certainly have not gotten inspiration the same way every time. A lot of the Alabama fiction, for example, that I have written/am writing/have thought about writing, comes from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child about the past–mostly her family’s past, and certainly those stories were self-aggrandizing and self-serving, and still others were apocryphal: the ancestress, for example, who killed a Yankee soldier come to rob her during the Civil War? Yeah, that one was almost certainly lifted from Gone with the Wind–but I have since come to find out that Mitchell probably took the story from legends as well–that story seems to exist everywhere in local legend throughout the former Confederacy (I mention this in passing in Bury Me in Shadows, which also originated in one of my grandmother’s stories).

A while back, I started thinking about doing period novels centering gay male characters and telling their stories about the times when prim-and-proper society swept all things gay under the rug and homophobia was king (or Queen, I suppose). I had already come up with a great idea for a gay noir centered around a health club that operated as a money-laundering front for the local mob in a city in Florida called Muscles, which I hope to write at some point…I cannot recall exactly how or why Muscles led into thinking about other one-word titled gay noir novels set in different periods of the twentieth century; but there you have it. I think Muscles led me to think about setting one in a gay bar in the early 1990’s, built around the time gay porn star Joey Stefano was arrested while performing at a Tampa gay bar for public indecency; Indecency was such a great title that I couldn’t forget it–and I also figured I could link the two books, the way I always link my books together in an Easter eggy kind of way that the majority of people don’t notice but pleases me immensely. Right round that same time a gay man who was very active as a fundraiser and a donor for political causes died; he had started out owning a company that published gay-interest magazines with nude models and had been arrested, and served time, for using the mail to deliver pornography; I wanted to write about him and the rise of gay porn films in Southern California and call it Obscenity. So there it was: a trilogy of loosely connected gay noirs I hoped to write someday…and then one day, as I was blogging–I think maybe two years ago? I don’t recall–my mind was wandering (as it is wont to do) and I started riffing about an idea that was forming in my head as I wrote the entry for a book set in 1950’s Hollywood, dealing with the underground gay community, McCarthyism, and scandal-mongering that would open with a gay movie star’s body being found naked in the surf at the beach…only the autopsy found that the water in his lungs actually contained chlorine…so he hadn’t drowned, he’d been murdered and the body moved. I called it Chlorine; and that was, for me, kind of the end of it–I wrote the idea down, created a folder for it, and posted the entry.

So, I am sure you can imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter a few hours later and had a ridiculously high amount of–what do they call them? Mentions? Anyway, I had no idea what had triggered this–I rarely get much interaction there–and so when I went to check…some people had read my blog and were all about Chlorine–and the more they tweeted about it, the more people had gotten drawn into this conversation. I was thrilled, to say the least, to see so much attention on-line for something that was really just an amorphous idea…and then a great first line occurred to me: The earthquake woke me up at nine in the morning. So I opened a new Word document, typed in that line, and next thing you know, I had an over 3000 word first chapter written, and the entire plot was forming in my mind already. I took voluminous notes, and decided that, once I got finished with everything I was in the midst of writing already, I would give Chlorine a shot.

And in the meantime, I could start reading up on the period, gay Hollywood, and root myself firmly in the period.

Which is how I came across Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.

On November 29, 1954, The Hollywood Reporter’s gossip columnist Mike Connolly wrote about the proud, happiest day of Rock Hudson’s life. The movie star had just been cast in George Stevens’ cattle-and-oil epic Giant, and Connolly’s one-line blurb commemorating Rock’s celebration party was as cryptic as it was pumped with news ready to break: “Saturday Mo-somes: Phyllis Gates & Rock Hudson, Margaret Truman & Henry Willson.”

In one of his rare acts of discretion, newshound Connolly dispensed with the ampersand that should have wedded the names Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Fifty years into the future, “Mo-somes” could be read as slang for the two men’s sexual orientation. But not in 1954. Back then, “Mo” meant something far less provocative but nearly as colorful

“Mo” was short for the Mocambo, the Mount Olympus of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Pure tinseltown fantasy, the Mocambo was an over-heated study in contrasts where oversized tin flowers and humongous velvet balls with fringe festooned flaming candy-cane columns that framed a dance floor designed to induce claustrophobia when more than two couples got up to fox-trot. The tables were equally miniscule, making it possible for the establishment to charge lots of money for not much food, which nobody could see. Overhead, rococo candelabras gave off so little illumination that revelers kept bumping into each other by mistake, and sometimes now, as they tried to check themselves out in the flecked mirrors that recast everybody’s reflection in tones of warm, flattering, fake gold.

I had a vague idea of who Henry Willson was before I read this book–he appeared in the Rock Hudson bio I read a few months ago as well as in Tab Hunter’s memoirs–and of course, Jim Parsons played him in the Ryan Murphy alternate-history Hollywood. I was also vaguely aware–my memory is a lot dimmer than it used to be–of the gay Hollywood underground; the Sunday afternoon pool parties at George Cukor’s, for example–and I had read some gay Hollywood histories (the ones by William J. Mann are particularly good), but I knew my main character in Chlorine needed a Henry Willson-like agent, and so I needed to research Henry Willson. Willson was, of course, notorious in his time and the passage of time since his heyday has done nothing to soften that image. He was the definitive “casting couch” agent–and per this book, which is very well written and very entertaining–men who wanted to be movie stars (whether gay, straight or bi) were more than willing to service Henry if it meant a leg up in the business. And Henry did work very hard for his clients, polishing rough material into diamonds for the camera. He taught them how to speak, how to walk, the proper silverware, how to behave in public; manners and etiquette. Henry believed that talent wasn’t as important to being a movie star as having star quality–the indescribable something that all major stars have, that is impossible to describe–and he knew what he was doing. He also frequently renamed them–hence the proliferation of the one syllable first names with the two or three syllable last names: Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Guy Madison, etc.

This book provided a wealth of information as well as inspiration for me, as did the Rock Hudson biography I read several months ago. This period of Hollywood history is fascinating, and I love that writing this book–or rather, planning and researching, since I haven’t really started writing it–is giving me an amazing excuse to study gay Hollywood history and the post-war film industry.

Make no mistake about it–Henry Willson was good at what he did, but he was also a terrible person; trying to make it in a homophobic culture, society and industry at the time in which he lived would definitely twist a person. He was an arch-conservative; a Log Cabin Republican of his time, friends with the horrific Roy Cohn. Was it camouflage to help protect him and his clients from the Red Scare days of McCarthyism, when being queer was also just as suspect? Or was he really that terrible of a person? The author makes no judgments; rather leaving it to the reader to. make up their own minds about who Henry was as a person. As terrible as he was–and some of the things he did, like the casting couch, were pretty unforgivable–I did feel sorry for him in some ways, and in basing a character on him I kind of have to find the humanity in the monster. He was not attractive in a business that revolved around beauty; while the straight male pigs who ran the business used their power to force women to sleep with them, Henry used and abused his own power to get beautiful men to sleep with him.

My own main character–a second-tier movie star who slept his way into parts and a career–is also not entirely likable; but I think I’ve gotten deep enough inside of his head to at least make him identifiable and relatable to the reader…but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I do recommend this book, if you’re interested in Hollywood history in general or gay Hollywood history specifically.

Shake It Off

Believe it or not, we have finally reached the last Monday of 2020.

As always, I have a lot of work to do, but I slept exceptionally well for a change and the bed was comfortable and felt so lovely I stayed in bed for another hour after I woke up initially; sue me. I have a gazillion things to do today, including going to the bank and making groceries as well as going to the gym at some point; I also have to work on the book today. The work went very well yesterday and I was enormously pleased with what I managed to get done yesterday. I have a mere five chapters left to revise and a final chapter yet to be written; all of which needs to be done by Friday, and I do feel like it can be done–especially since I don’t even need to leave the house on either Tuesday or Thursday. I am not certain if the gym is going to be open on Friday–I guess I can ask when I go there today; I do find it strange that they don’t post their holiday hours anywhere around the front desk or on the front door, but it’s also not “my” gym, so I guess they can run it however they please. I also have a gazillion emails to answer, which doesn’t sound in the least bit fun or interesting, but it has to be done.

I did, as I mentioned earlier, manage to get a lot done yesterday–and not just on the book. More cleaning and organizing was required–still have some more to do today at some point–as well as making new folders, both physical and virtual, and of course, this meant more filing. While it was busywork, it needed to be done, and I actually did the floors in the kitchen–well, the rugs anyway–which always makes the kitchen look ever-so-much better. I am going to do the rugs in the living room today at some point, and then over the rest of the week do the actual floors themselves–and yes, I am going to do the windows as well.

I intended to start reading the new Alison Gaylin–I am lucky to have a very advance copy of The Colleciive, available from your local independents and on-line this coming summer of 2021–but I got caught up in Czity of Nets, which is, of course, Chlorine research, and after reading through it (I went ahead and bought the ebook; I do believe I must have donated the hardcover after I finished reading it, as Chlorine had yet to occur to me at the time I read it) I thought about it some more and was like, dude, you’re going to be writing the Kansas book next–maybe you should do some more background on it…because truth be told, most of it is being written based on almost forty year old memories of Kansas, and that really won’t do, will it? So, I went into a Kansas internet wormhole for quite some time and actually got pretty far afield from what I was originally looking up–you know how one thing inevitably leads to another on-line–and soon I was looking up rivers and lakes and the small rural towns scattered around the nucleus of Emporia, which was the county seat of where I lived as a teenager–towns with names like Admire and Allen, Bushong and Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove and Neosho Rapids, Olpe and Hamilton and Reading and Hartford. I’ll probably also take another read of In Cold Blood while I work on this revision as well; few writers have captured Kansas quite the way Capote did in that book. I also started looking at history as well–the history of Bleeding Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both of which were preludes to the Civil War. And as much as I am basing my fictional city of “Liberty Center” (shout out to Philip Roth and his When She Was Good) on Emporia, I also have to remember–just as how Bury Me in Shadows is a fictionalized version of the part of Alabama I come from–that I am fictionalizing the town; so I can make changes as needed and the fictionalization doesn’t have to be exact.

It’s so wild that the Kansas book is going to finally be finished and published–and all the different iterations it’s gone through over the course of my life. I actually started writing this book originally in high school–which is when I came up with the character names and places–and it was actually the very first manuscript I completed, by hand, in 1983 after writing it for about four years, continuing the stories I started writing about these characters in high school. This book will bear very little resemblance to any of those earlier iterations; over the years I’ve used the character names in other works, primarily my only other Kansas book, Sara–which I really need to reread to make sure I don’t re-use names I’ve already used. I think the ones I’ve used since high school were used in Sara, which I thought would be my one book about Kansas, so I threw all the character names and place names into it. I had wanted to connect this book in a way to Sara as well; since they are about the same part of Kansas, and I try to connect all of my work in some way, but I’ve never ever liked the name I came up with for the county seat, and now I’ve settled on Liberty Center….but I also tell myself that the two differently named counties can actually be next door neighbors, Liberty County can be right next to Kahola County, and thus Kahola High can be Liberty Center’s arch rival.

Looking into those small towns, some of them considered to be ghost towns now, also piqued my interest. I have several ideas about writing about Kansas–the Bloody Benders, of course, and I have a great title for a prairie noir called Kansas Lonesome I really want to write–and as I said, this book has been through many iterations. The great irony of finally publishing this–and finishing it, let’s be honest–still doesn’t mean I am writing the Kansas book I’ve always wanted to write; this book does focus on the murder of a high school football player, as the Kansas book I’ve been wanting to write since around 2002 did; but this is a vastly different story from what I originally wanted to write–and I still may write that book, centered around Kahola rather than Liberty Center; I’m not sure–and there’s also the cult college thing–the Way International and their Way College of Emporia, which isn’t there anymore; they closed the campus and sold the property to Emporia State University–and the Way has declined over the decades since they were large and wealthy enough to buy a bankrupt Presbyterian college in a small city in Kansas–but that’s a whole other story. There’s also the megachurch story I want to write about Kansas….which is also sort of tied into my original story of the quarterback’s murder. Who knew Kansas could be so inspirational?

But you see how I wind up wasting days….

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Those emails will not answer themselves, after all, and I’ve got a lot to get done today before the sun sets. Have a happy final Monday of 2020, Constant Reader!

22

One of the annual things about November that I enjoy watching–but don’t participate in–is Nanowrimo. Maybe I should participate, I don’t know. For many years I never needed to–I wrote the 95k first draft of the Kansas book in thirty days–but as bad as I have been lately about writing, maybe I should have taken part in it this year. Anyway, it’s always enjoyable for me to watch other writers working hard, being productive, and hitting goals. Well done, all of you! Keep on keeping on, and keep on being inspiring to those of us too afraid to officially set these sorts of goals and accountability!

This morning I am going to go vote. I had intended to early vote–just stroll over to the Smoothie King Center the last Saturday of early voting–but forgot all about until it was too late that Saturday–and my work schedule didn’t permit going the last two weekdays that followed thereafter. So, this morning I shall bundle up and trundle over the International School on Camp Street to vote, like I inevitably and invariably always do. It never takes very long–I think the longest line I’ve ever been in was four or five people–and then I can walk back home and get ready for the day’s work. Huzzah? Huzzah.

Boy, do I miss the crepe myrtles.

Yesterday, though, was a good day. I didn’t get everything finished that I wanted to, but I made progress rolling the stone up the hill, and I may even be able to start getting even closer to the top. Stranger things have happened, you know. I am starting to feel even a bit more confident about myself and life in general again. I did start rereading the story fragments that make up both “A Dirge in the Dark” and “Condos, for Sale or Rent”–I’ll get to “Please Die Soon” today, I hope–and there’s possibilities there. I’m not really sure of what direction either story is going to go in, and I am not entirely sure how either story ends; but I do think I should be able to get finished first rough drafts of all of them sooner rather than later.

I’ve also decided that I need to get my shit together with the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows before I move on to the final fifteen chapters; there are things I need to set up in those chapters and I also need to strengthen the voice of my main character–as well as make the reader doubt more whether he’s reliable or not as a narrator. And no, that’s not a spoiler…and even if it were, the book won’t be out until late 2021 anyway, so you’d forget by the time the book comes out anyway.

And most importantly, it’s the tone of the book that really matters. That’s going to be the real struggle.

I had dinner with a writer friend in from out of town last night–her daughter goes to Tulane– and we went to Lula, a new place that is located in what used to be a furniture shop on St. Charles for decades whose name I can no longer remember; it was always there, so I never really gave much thought to trying to remember its name–and it will eventually come to me; it’s where we bought Paul’s love seat, which has sadly been tattered and shredded by cats over the years (EDITED TO ADD: the store was Halpern’s; I knew I’d eventually remember!). The service was good, and while we met early for a New Orleans dinner engagement (six pm), it got much more crowded the longer we were there. The food was good–I had the shrimp and grits, and frankly, only in Oxford, Mississippi have I ever had shrimp and grits that was better than mine–and then I walked home. I was very tired by then, and fell into a sad wormhole of Youtube videos about 80’s music (33 80’s Songs You’ve Forgotten! 100 80’s Songs Everyone Grew up With! Fifty 80’s Songs Everyone Remembers!) until I basically dozed off in my easy chair between nine and ten, when I repaired to the bed. Anyway, the dinner was lovely–we discussed writing, publishers, the crime fiction genre–and I always forget how invigorating such conversations always are for me. I love talking to other writers (unless they’re complete assholes–and you know who you are) because it does make me think about my own work more, and what things I could be better at doing (right now, it’s making myself do the work), but I remain ever hopeful that I’ll be able to dive back into my work and get it moving again sometime soon. I did pull the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows into a single document for editing last night, so that’s something, at any rate.

Tonight when I get home from work I am going to go to the gym–despite the slight soreness in my back, which I totally know why I’m sore and what I did wrong, so I am going to skip the lat pulldowns, or use a different bar–and then I am going to come home and read The Hot Rock and/or write for the majority of the evening. I know I don’t want to check the election results or follow them the way I usually do–I don’t think my stomach, psyche, or anything can handle it–but I am probably going to have to take a look before I go to bed so I don’t have to wake up in the morning to bad news. I’m not kidding when I say I am terrified by this election, and can’t remember another such time when the soul of the country was on the ballot the way it is now. I thought the 2008 election was an important one for the direction of the country, same with 1992…but I don’t ever remember living through one this important. This must be how people felt about the election of 1860–which basically boiled down to, are we voting to save the union or are we voting for civil war? We know how that turned out, and this election feels very similar to that one–but at least then they didn’t have 24/7 news and social media. (Which is part of the reason, I now realize, why I’ve been reading Vidal’s Lincoln.) I can remember fearing for the future of the country on election nights before, but I don’t ever remember the existential dread and fear that I been pushing down deep inside of my soul the last few weeks. I really no longer trust my fellow Americans, I’m afraid, to be decent human beings–and given my previously held low opinion of humanity (working service and at the airport stomped most of my optimism about my fellow Americans right out of my system), that’s really saying something.

But I have always taking voting to be my sacred privilege and duty; I have nothing but contempt for those who do not hold it in the same regard that I do. Yes, there are problems with a two-party system (we’re really seeing that right now), and yes, many times you are voting for the lesser of two evils than for a candidate who mirrors your beliefs and values–but this country was founded on the basic principle of citizens voting and being participants in the process–abdicating that responsibility, regardless of how deeply cynical you might feel about voting and everything else about our political system, is in and of itself a statement of contempt for the country, your fellow citizens, and probably the most unpatriotic thing you could do other than sell state secrets to unfriendly foreign governments. If you don’t like the system, work to change it. That’s how it works, and how it was always intended to work. The founders imbued the citizenry with the right to change things if we so desired–and yes, they were racist misogynists with a side of homophobia and religious zealotry, but they designed the government and the system so that it could be changed, course corrections made, and always improved…but it has to start with voting. Whenever someone complains about something to do with the government or the system, I stop listening the minute they try to justify their not casting of a ballot–because they aren’t interested in actually making change; they are only interested in complaining, while at the same time claiming moral superiority by not participating in a “rigged” or “unfair” system. Well, guess what? Our judiciary is also a flawed, rigged, unfair system–but you don’t get to “not participate” in our legal system simply because you think it’s a failing system–as you will soon find out if you are accused of a crime. You don’t get to tell the police or the district attorney that you don’t believe in the system and therefore you won’t participate–that’s the fastest route to a jail sentence I can think of. And maybe it’s a failed analogy–always possible–because you have to be accused of something before you get dragged into the legal system–perhaps the better analogy would be taxes. You can’t get out of your taxes because you don’t believe in the system.

Although it would be interesting if someone sued the IRS to get out of paying taxes because they felt disenfranchised by the electoral college (taxation without representation)–but I’ll leave that to the lawyers.

And on that note, tis time to get on with my day. Stay safe, Constant Reader, and stay sane. Regardless of today’s outcomes, we will endure.

The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.

King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.